The first solo effort by Rilo Kelly guitarist Blake Sennett, The Elected’s Me First, is my first favorite album of 2004. The press-friendly description of the band having that “California sound” is right on. Comparisons to the laid-back country of Gram Parsons and company sprout up immediately, as the slide guitar of the opener “7 September 2003” nurses along the warm, almost quiet harmonies of a summer day worth remembering: “And on the last night of summer, and I got you alone/ we talked until dawn, then I walked you home.” There are more California sounds, lush Beach Boys arrangements and more warm tone than you can shake a Vox AC30 amplifier at. But the end result of compiling the best influences of Sennett’s record collection is anything but derivative. Much like the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Sennett keeps the past just at arm’s length and as a result doesn’t bury his work under a pile of hero worship. Lyrically, for an album full of anecdotal snapshots, the language is at times a little broad, but I can’t help falling for the full-chorus affirmation on the second-to-last track, “Don’t Blow It,” with its subdued choir chanting the title over and over.